Bharatanatyam dancer Aswathy V Nair is missing the stage. Like most performing artistes, the Onam season used to a busy one for Aswathy. “I see little chances for any dance programmes happening this year,” she says.
“During Onam last year, I had three shows in Chennai,” she says. “I have also performed during the Kerala Government’s Onam celebrations.”
In 2006, it was during Onam that she choreographed a show for some young performers in the United States. “It was for the first time that I was choreographing something that wasn’t associated completely with classical dance,” she says.
She was on a tour of the US and danced and taught for three months. “I lived with a Malayali family at Washington,” she says. “What struck me most was the way the Malayalis formed organisations in America. There would be one feast (sadya) by each of those associations every weekend, making people tired of it by the end of October.”
And it was during another Onam that she watched the premier of her father M T Vasudevan Nair’s film, Oru Cheru Punchiri. “It was not released in theatres and was screened on Asianet,” she says. “It remains one of my favourite films and I still remember watching it from our home.”
Onam at home
Actor Vinod Kovoor says he too is missing the stage and the camera.
“The Onam season has always been the happiest for me; I would not be able to accommodate all the shows that came my way,” he says. “And I would often be spending it with Malayalis in Bengaluru and Chennai.”
He says these past five months have been rather difficult. “There have been no stage shows, no shooting and therefore no income,” he says. “Only recently I could resume shooting for the TV show for Marimayam, after a gap of five months.”
Vinod’s Onam celebrations will be of low key this year. “We will have a sadya at home but we don’t intend to buy any new clothes,” he says. “I had never imagined that there would be an Onam like this.”
He reminisces about Onam in happier times: “Years ago, when we had to organise transportation for our show. We had performed at Thalassery once,” he recalls. “The programme ended very late and we didn’t get any vehicle to return to Kozhikode; nobody stopped to give us a lift.”
Eventually, a kind lorry driver stopped for Vinod and his friends. “We got on to the back part of the lorry and reached Kozhikode,” he says. “We were supposed to give some money to the driver. Those days we were not paid well for our shows. So one of the friends suggested we just run away once the lorry stopped. And we did.”
He chuckles when he recalls another memorable Onam. “I had dressed up as Maveli for a show,” he says. “But the stray dogs in the area were probably not impressed; they ran after me. Maveli had to run for his life.”
Memories of a happy Onam
Dancer, singer and performer Rajashree Warrier’s fondest memory of Onam is of a performance. “I have been performing Bharatanatyam during the Government’s tourism celebrations from my school days,” she says. “I remember there would be 10 different venues in various parts of Thiruvananthapuram with Kanakakkunnu Palace being the main one.”
She got an opportunity at the Nishagandhi stage at Kanakakunnu’s Palace. “Kuchipudi maestro Vempati Chinna Satyam was supposed to perform, but could not make it, so I was asked to dance at the last minute,” he says. “And that was after my friends made fun of me when I told them that I could be dancing at Kanakakkunnu.”
More than three decades later, she remembers what she danced at that show. “I had danced Dashavatharam for half-an-hour,” she says. “I also used to sing, often while still in my Bharatanatyam costume, during the Government’s Onam celebrations, which also helped me grow as a person and artiste. I used to watch so many classical dance and music programmes as well as theatre.”
“And it was during an Onam celebration festival that I debuted as a professional dancer,” she says.
As for this Onam, she has come to terms with the fact that she wouldn’t be performing on stage, neither would she be able to watch a show. “I am just looking forward to spending time at home,” she says. “It is disappointing that my daughter will not be able to come home; she cannot travel from Bengaluru, where she is working.”